‘God help this country:’ Lebanon in limbo as PM-designate Hariri quits

‘God help this country:’ Lebanon in limbo as PM-designate Hariri quits
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Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meeting with Prime minister-designate Saad Hariri at the presidential palace on Wednesday. (AFP)
‘God help this country:’ Lebanon in limbo as PM-designate Hariri quits
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Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri arrives at his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 16 July 2021

‘God help this country:’ Lebanon in limbo as PM-designate Hariri quits

‘God help this country:’ Lebanon in limbo as PM-designate Hariri quits
  • President rejects 24-member cabinet lineup
  • Angry protests spread as pound hits new low

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri stepped down on Thursday, citing “key differences” with President Michel Aoun after nine months of political wrangling that failed to form a government for the crisis-ridden country.

Following his second meeting with the president in the past 24 hours, Hariri announced that “Aoun’s position has not changed.”

The two men held their 19th meeting on Wednesday, with Hariri presenting a lineup for a 24-member cabinet.

“God help this country,” Hariri said. “Aoun requested fundamental changes to the cabinet lineup I had presented to him on Wednesday, related to the naming of Christian ministers. He told me that we would not be able to reach an agreement.”

Aoun’s office hit back in a statement, saying that Hariri “was not ready to discuss amendments of any kind.”

The president said he would set a date for binding parliamentary consultations as soon as possible to assign an alternative figure to take over the task of forming a government.

Following Hariri’s move, the Lebanese pound hit a new low and was selling for higher than LBP20,000 to the dollar on the black market.

The resignation and the sharp rise in the price of the dollar sparked angry protests that spread in Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and Baalbek.

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Protesters destroyed restaurants and cafes and expelled customers from these establishments in the southern city of Tyre.

In Beirut, streets were blocked and there were clashes with soldiers in the vicinity of Beirut Arab University, leaving some injured.

In Tripoli, there were repeated calls through loudspeakers for people to take to the streets.

Relations between Aoun and Hariri were under great strain because of the political differences and disputes between the president and his political party, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), on one side and Hariri’s Future Movement on the other.

Dr. Harith Suleiman, an academic and political writer, said he was not shocked to see Lebanon reach this impasse as Aoun had been “hindering all attempts” to form a rescue government for the past nine months.

“Aoun does not want Hariri to head the government and is insisting on giving the blocking third to himself and his political party to be able to sack the government whenever he feels like it,” he told Arab News. “He wants the blocking third to be solely given for his party, without Hezbollah, because he does want Hezbollah to be able to apply pressure in case it was to support a presidential candidate other than the FPM’s candidate, Gebran Bassil.

“It is not easy now to name a well-respected Sunni figure who would resist Aoun and his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, to form a government that would stop the collapse. Bassil wants a premier who would be willing to work for him and take his orders.”




Lebanese army take cover behind shields as they deploy during a protest in Beirut on Thursday after PM-designate Saad al-Hariri abandoned his effort to form a new government. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)

Regarding the failure of foreign pressure to reach a solution in Lebanon, Suleiman added: “We will remain hostages until the conclusion of the American-Iranian talks in Vienna. How can foreign countries ask us to save ourselves while we are hostages? Can the kidnapped rebel against their kidnappers?”

Former lawmaker Fares Souaid said Aoun was still in the presidential palace “only because of Hezbollah.”

“In the confrontation of political forces, the public opinion and the Arab and international decision-making bodies, the situation is worse than dangerous,” he added.

The US State Department said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would discuss with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian the efforts exerted to address the situation in Lebanon, adding that “Lebanon’s leaders must form a government able to carry out reforms to end the crisis.”

FASTFACT

Aoun said he would set a date for binding parliamentary consultations as soon as possible to assign an alternative figure to take over the task of forming a government.

On Thursday, the US ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea and her French counterpart Anne Grillo handed a joint letter to Aoun from Blinken and Le Drian in which they stressed “their countries’ interest in the Lebanese situation” and “the need to form a government soon to address the critical situation that Lebanon is facing.”

France on Thursday reiterated its commitment to supporting the Lebanese while sources said that French presidential envoy Patrick Durel met Mohamed Raad, head of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc, on Wednesday night.

During a celebration on France’s national day, Grillo addressed the Lebanese and said: “This celebration is held this year in the context of the solidarity that we have been expressing to you for several months, and especially after Aug. 4, 2020, the day of the Beirut port explosion. 

“Once again today, I am reiterating to you that France, the French people, and the French residents in Lebanon will always support you. The situation today is urgent and pressing. France has always sought to gather support for Lebanon. At the initiative of the French president and with the support of the UN, a third international conference to support the Lebanese people will be held on Aug. 4. This date will constitute a new milestone ... following the two previous conferences that helped raise €250 million ($295.07 million) for Lebanon, including €80 million from France.”


Lebanon at risk of complete blackout by September-end: State power firm

Lebanon at risk of complete blackout by September-end: State power firm
Updated 15 sec ago

Lebanon at risk of complete blackout by September-end: State power firm

Lebanon at risk of complete blackout by September-end: State power firm
  • PM Mikati heads to Paris to meet President Macron after government formation

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s state electricity company EDL said on Thursday it risked a total blackout across the country by September-end as its fuel oil reserves dwindle.
Lebanon, in the throes of one of the worst economic meltdowns of modern history, has been plagued by worsening fuel shortages for the past few months with most Lebanese relying on private generators for power.
The company can generate less than 500 megawatts from fuel oil it secured through a deal with Iraq, it said in a statement.
It said its reserves of both Grade A and Grade B fuel oil had reached a critical point and had run out already for some plants that have now stopped production.
“The network already experienced total blackouts across the country seven times and if this continues there is a high risk of reaching total and complete blackout by end September,” the statement said.
Iraq signed an agreement in July allowing the cash-strapped Lebanese government to pay for 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil a year in goods and services.

FASTFACT

Lebanon, in the throes of one of the worst economic meltdowns of modern history, has been plagued by worsening fuel shortages for the past few months with most Lebanese relying on private generators for power.

The heavy fuel oil is not suitable for use in Lebanon, but it is exchanged in tenders for a suitable grade.
EDL held Lebanon’s central bank responsible for not securing dollars in exchange for “the surplus of local currency accumulated in the company’s account to generate power.”
Elsewhere, Hezbollah has continued to provide fuel for municipalities and hospitals hoping to procure Iranian diesel through the Al-Amana company, which is under US sanctions. The administration of a hospital in northern Lebanon denied having received fuel through Al-Amana.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib Mikati headed to Paris on Thursday, his first official visit after the formation of the government, and is expected to meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday.
France exerted intense pressure on Lebanese politicians to form a government in line with the initiative launched by Macron in the aftermath of the Beirut blast, which rocked the country last August.
On the eve of Mikati’s visit to the French capital, the International Support Group for Lebanon welcomed the formation of the new government and the parliament’s vote of confidence in the administration and its program.


Countries ‘abandoning thousands of Syrian children in desert limbo’

Countries ‘abandoning thousands of Syrian children in desert limbo’
Updated 53 min 48 sec ago

Countries ‘abandoning thousands of Syrian children in desert limbo’

Countries ‘abandoning thousands of Syrian children in desert limbo’
  • Charity says 62 children died of various causes in northeastern Syria camp this year



BEIRUT: Two children die every week in Al-Hol, one of the overcrowded Syrian camps where families with suspected links to the Daesh group are stranded, Save the Children said on Thursday.
The charity said many countries, including EU states, were abandoning thousands of children in their desert limbo, vulnerable to violence, fires, malnutrition and illness.
Save the Children said a total of 40,000 children from 60 different countries were living in dire conditions in the camps of Roj and Al-Hol in northeastern Syria.
“Many of the world’s richest countries have failed to bring home the majority of their children stuck in” the two displacement camps, the group said in a statement.
It said 62 children had died of various causes so far this year, including violence, disease and accidents.
Save the Children said a total of 73 people, including two children, were murdered in Al-Hol alone so far this year.
The remote camps managed by the Kurdish forces that control the area were meant to house the families of men who had been detained over suspected ties to the Daesh group.
However, they also hold many families who simply fled Daesh occupation of their homes in Iraq and Syria. Some have been there for more than four years.
Save the Children interviewed several children trapped behind the fences of Al-Hol, where they live like prisoners and from which their governments are unwilling to repatriate them.
“I cannot endure this life anymore. We do nothing but wait,” said one 11-year-old Lebanese girl who was interviewed in May and was since reportedly killed during a failed escape attempt in a water truck.
The charity said France had 320 children held in both camps but had only repatriated 35. The United Kingdom has 60 and only brought four home.
“What we are seeing here is governments simply abandoning children, who are first and foremost victims of conflict,” said Sonia Khush, director of Save the Children’s Syria response.
She said 83 percent of repatriation operations so far had been to Uzbekistan, Kosovo, Kazakhstan and Russia.
The Kurdish authorities running the area consistently said they did not have the capacity to organize trials for all the detained foreign suspects nor support their families.
France and other Western countries have been wary of the impact mass repatriations could have on domestic security and public opinion.


Israeli to face trial on 70 sex abuse charges in Australia

Israeli to face trial on 70 sex abuse charges in Australia
Updated 50 min 56 sec ago

Israeli to face trial on 70 sex abuse charges in Australia

Israeli to face trial on 70 sex abuse charges in Australia

MELBOURNE: A former school principal who was extradited from Israel after a six-year legal battle was ordered to stand trial on Thursday on 70 charges of child sex abuse.
Malka Leifer, 55, pleaded not guilty to all the charges at the end of a court hearing. The committal hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates Court was held to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial.
Leifer is accused of carrying out the abuse against sisters Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper when Leifer was head of Melbourne’s Adass Israel School between 2004 and 2008.
The three sisters testified by video link during a closed court hearing. Leifer also appeared by video from Melbourne’s women’s prison, the Dame Phyillis Frost Center. Melbourne is currently in lockdown due to a coronavirus outbreak.
The judge, Magistrate Johanna Metcalf, said she believed the evidence was of sufficient weight to support a conviction.
Leifer faces 44 counts of indecent assault, 13 of an indecent act with a child, 10 of rape, and three of sexually violating a child. Prosecutors withdrew four further charges after it became clear those alleged incidents occurred in Israel.
The next hearing will be held at Victoria’s County Court on Oct. 21.
Leifer’s lawyer Ian Hill didn’t make any submissions at the end of the prosecution’s case. The judge noted Leifer denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
Five witnesses gave evidence on Thursday including former Adass Israel School staffer Esther Spigelman, who said she went to see Leifer the day after she was stood down by the school board over the allegations in 2008.
“It was a very big shock and I went to say goodbye. She was very upset with what they were doing to her,” Spigelman said.


Clashes between Houthi militia and government forces kill 35

Clashes between Houthi militia and government forces kill 35
Updated 57 min 8 sec ago

Clashes between Houthi militia and government forces kill 35

Clashes between Houthi militia and government forces kill 35
  • The rebels have accelerated their push to take Marib in recent months

SANAA: Flighting flared up this week between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and pro-government forces in the country’s southern province of Shabwa, killing 35 from both sides, tribal leaders and security officials said on Thursday.
Clashes are now in their third day in several districts of the government-controlled province, including Bayhan and Usaylan, said the officials and the elders. Dozens have been wounded on both sides, they said.
In Shabwa, government forces regained control of areas that Houthis had captured earlier this week, the officials said.
The rebel offensive on Shabwa is believed to be aimed at disrupting a key line of communication through which pro-government reinforcements are sent to the central province of Marib, where fighting has been raging for several months.
The rebels have accelerated their push to take Marib in recent months, while escalating cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition has launched dozens of airstrikes on towns in Marib — including Rahbah, Sirwah and Madghel — to back pro-government ground forces,
The head of the UN food agency has warned that 16 million people in Yemen “are marching toward starvation” and said food rations for millions in the war-torn nation will be cut in October unless new funding arrives.
David Beasley said at a meeting on Yemen’s humanitarian crisis that the US, Germany, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other donors stepped up when the World Food Programme was running out of money earlier this year and “because of that we averted famine and catastrophe.”
WFP is running out of money again, he said, and without new funding, ration reductions will be made for 3.2 million people in October and for 5 million by December. At a virtual pledging conference co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland on March 1, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for $3.85 billion for Yemen this year. But donors pledged less than half the amount — $1.7 billion, which the UN chief called “disappointing.”
Yemen on Thursday received its third batch of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX global vaccine-sharing scheme, the Health Ministry said.
A delivery of 356,000 shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Aden, the temporary capital of the internationally recognized Yemeni government.
Health Minister Qasem Buhaibeh said the vaccines will be distributed to people who had already received one AstraZeneca dose.
Yemen received 360,000 doses of AstraZeneca in March, followed by 151,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson in August.
The government’s emergency coronavirus committee has registered 8,830 coronavirus infections and 1,664 deaths so far although the true figure is thought to be much higher as the war has restricted COVID-19 testing and reporting.
The Iran-aligned Houthi movement has provided no figures since a couple of cases in May 2020.
COVAX is co-led by the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organization and aims to provide COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries.


4 Tunisian parties say president has lost his legitimacy

4 Tunisian parties say president has lost his legitimacy
Updated 47 min 3 sec ago

4 Tunisian parties say president has lost his legitimacy

4 Tunisian parties say president has lost his legitimacy
  • Saied declared on Wednesday he would rule by decree

TUNIS: Four Tunisian parties said on Thursday that President Kais Saied has lost his legitimacy and called for an end to what they called a “coup,” after the president said he was taking control of legislative and executive powers.
Saied declared on Wednesday he would rule by decree and ignore parts of the constitution as he prepared to change the political system.
Attayr, Al-Jouhmouri, Akef and Ettakatol parties said in a joint statement that Saied’s move enshrined an absolute power monopoly.
Wednesday’s decrees include the continuing suspension of the parliament’s powers and the suspension of all lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution. But the text published in the official gazette went even further — now freezing lawmakers’ salaries.
They also state laws will not go through the parliament, whose powers are frozen, granting him near-unlimited power.
On July 25, Saied sacked Tunisia’s prime minister, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority, saying it was because of a national emergency.
For law professor Mouna Kraiem, the new emergency measures amount to “the establishment of a dictatorship in the full sense of the word.”
Saied has denied wanting to be a dictator, saying that he eventually aims to put his political reforms to the public in the form of a nationwide referendum. But his political critics remain skeptical of this intention. The July event came after years of economic sluggishness, but were triggered by a day of violent protest and a rise in coronavirus cases.
Constitutional expert Chafik Sarsar says that while parliament has not been definitively dissolved, Saied has implemented a “mini-constitution” that breaks with the hybrid parliamentary-presidential system established by Tunisia’s 2014 post-revolution constitution.
“This appears to be a temporary rearrangement of powers ... to prepare for a transition toward a new constitutional order,” Sarsar said.
Analyst Salah Al-Din Al-Jourshi agrees that Saied is moving to transform the political order.
“He is very clear in his aims: he wants change, not just installing a presidential system but also transforming relations between the head of state and the public,” he said.